Thoughts on Worship in the Academy at the End of a Rough Year

CWPA Demoss Stacked FC Logo PRINTWe celebrated the blessed end of a really difficult semester this past Saturday in the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University.  (OK, we really celebrated Christmas, as is our wont in early December, but this year it certainly felt putting 2020 to bed for good earned a silver medal where reasons to be festive were concerned.)  I offered up a few reflections at the beginning of the worship concert, and I thought they might bear repeating here.  I pray they will be a blessing to you.

Good afternoon.  My name is Warren Anderson, and I’m the director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University.  Welcome to the annual DCWPA Christmas Concert of Worship.  We’re so glad that you’re with us—either in person, as part of our live stream, or viewing the concert after the fact.  Thanks so much for taking the time to celebrate with us.

And what an unusual celebration it is this year!  Twenty-twenty has been a year for the history books in so many ways: from a global pandemic affecting millions around the world to civic unrest and contentious political elections here in America.  Both at home and abroad, many now live with new-found economic instability. 

On our own campus, we have had community members lose loved ones to the coronavirus, some at the end of long, well-lived lives, others well before their time, at least as we commonly understand that concept.  Normal campus life—for administration, faculty, staff, and students—has been altered so much and so often that embracing myriad accommodations has turned into the norm, the default setting for business-as-usual at the end of 2020.

And yet . . .

Here we are.  We are finishing up this semester . .  . on schedule.  We will graduate the December class of 2020 next Saturday . . . on schedule.  We are celebrating the DCWPA Christmas Concert of Worship today . . . on schedule. 

It has been difficult, yes, but along the way we have, by God’s grace and mercy, been stretched beyond what any of us could have imagined last year at this time. 

We have had meaningful, sometimes painful, but always fruitful conversations together regarding racial reconciliation. 

We have wrestled with the notion that all Truth is God’s truth and that all of us, even those on the polar extremes of any spectrum we encounter (be it theological, political, or cultural), bear the Image of God and cannot be canceled or dismissed if we are to follow the example of Jesus. 

And we have learned—and are continuing to learn—what it means to be a faithful, Christ-centered academic community in the midst of a confluence of circumstances the likes of which have not been seen in any of our lifetimes.  Yes, it has been hard.

But here we are.

And so this afternoon is a microcosm of the fall semester at Judson University in the year of our Lord 2020.  We have probably changed the details of this concert 20 times in the last four weeks, each time conceding various aspects of the norm to COVID. 

But here we are. 

Like the instruction that has occurred in our classrooms this semester, some of this concert is going to take place live, and some will be “online,” to use that term loosely. 

But here we are. 

Like our students, some of you are going to worship with us face-to-face, and some of you will do so from the comforts of home through the miracles of various technologies.

But here we are.

Yes, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “The show must go on,” an admittedly performer-friendly paraphrase of Phil. 3:13-14: “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” 

Thanks again for being with us.

And then I prayed this prayer, amended slightly from a version that appears in the wonderful The Worship Sourcebook, with which I close this blog post with blessings for Advent!

O God, whose will is compassion for the poor, hope for the hopeless, and peace for the afflicted, let your herald’s urgent voice pierce our hardened hearts, steel our timid spirits, and announce the dawn of your kingdom.  Before the Advent of the one who baptizes with the fire of the Holy Spirit, let our complacency give way to conversion, our oppression to justice, and our fear to joy.  We ask through him whose coming is certain, whose day draws near: your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen

The Lord be with you!

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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